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“We’ve got customers.” Kai Allan elbowed Shaye Cates in the side. Their summer job placed them behind the candy counter of the Snack Shack on the Barefoot William Pier.
Tonight’s outdoor movie, Babe, was being shone on the outer wooden wall of the concession stand. The family film flickered through the open window above the popcorn machine as a pink pig raised by sheepdogs learned to herd sheep with the help of Farmer Hoggett.
Shaye straightened from her slump behind the counter. She brushed her hair out of her eyes, then tugged down the hem on a T-shirt that had started life five years ago a much brighter shade of blue. Her jeans were bleached white. She was barefoot and her pomegranate nail polish was in need of a fresh coat.
She’d been stocking oversized boxes of Jujyfruits, red licorice whips, and Sno Caps when Trace Saunders, the hot boy with the cool name, walked in. He carried two navy vinyl beach chairs under his arm, as movie-goers were required to supply their own seats.
His date trailed him. Crystal Smith was sixteen going on twenty. She appeared relaxed, whereas Trace looked restless, bored by the midnight feature. He apparently wasn’t into talking farm animals.
Shaye despired him. Her dislike surpassed her hatred of cooked cabbage, alarm clocks, cold weather, and shoes. Trace was an ass.
What did she expect from a hotshot jock? He was the star of a rival high school team. He was a sophomore who played varsity. He’d gone through a growth spurt and now stood six feet tall, all lanky and smug. He was big enough to play Major League Baseball. If he ever did, that was one bubble gum baseball card she’d trash. And fast.
That very afternoon Shaye had sat on the bleachers at Gulf Field and watched Trace hit a line drive between the shortstop and the second baseman in the top of the fifth. His team was already ahead by four runs, yet Trace had rounded the bases as if his hit would win the game.
The boy could sprint, long strikes, pumping arms. Not that she noticed. She was more interested in her cousin Kai, who played catcher. He’d crouched low for a throw from the center fielder as Trace slid home. Trace’s shoulder caught Kai in the chest and sent the catcher flying. Kai sailed several yards, slamming into a metal post. He’d bruised his spine.
Trace’s fan club applauded his run. Ten clueless teenage girls bounced on the bleachers like pogo sticks with boobs.
Shaye was a tomboy and broke the rule of non-players on the field. She’d climbed the chain-link fence and raced straight for Kai. She dropped to her knees and asked, “You okay?”
Kai fought to catch his breath. “Wind knocked out of me.”
She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder then looked to Trace. The boy dusted off his uniform pants, all smiles and puffed chest. Elle despised his cocky smile, and wanted to wipe it off his face. He’d hurt Kai. The incident was unforgivable, and she let him know it with a dirty look. Trace ignored her.
Trace topped Kai’s shit list as well. Kai had always been the athletic superstar until Trace moved to town, coming from a private boarding school. Trace was Kai’s chief competitor in both sports and dating. Trace had gone as far as to steal Kai’s girlfriend, which was unacceptable to Shaye. Crystal belonged with Kai.
Shaye’s hatred of Trace was bone deep. He was a Suanders and she was a Cates. Their century-old feud killed all pleasantries between them.
Over a hundred years had passed since her great-great-great grandfather William Cates left Frostbite, Minnesota. He’d been a farmer broken by poor crops and a harsh, early winter. He’d sold his farm and equipment, then hand cranked his Model-T and driven south. The trip was long and hard, yet he pushed on until the Florida sunshine thawed him out.
On a long stretch of uninhabited beach, William rolled up his pant legs and shucked his socks and work boots. Once he experienced the warm sand between his toes, he vowed to never wear shoes again.
He put down roots, married, and named the fishing village Barefoot William. The town expanded slowly, as family and longtime friends moved to the Gulf Coast. Even after he was elected mayor, William walked barefoot through city hall, as did the other town officials. Back then, life existed on a man’s word and a solid handshake. For two decades, the village remained small and laid-back.
Until the day Evan Saunders disrupted the peace. He was a capitalist with big-city blood. He wore three-piece suits, a bowler hat, and polished brown oxfords. It was rumored the man never broke a sweat in summer.
Evan set his sights on real estate. He contacted northern investors and, within six months, the Saunders Group began to buy up land. Evan wanted to citify the small town. He sought to turn Barefoot William into a wealthy winter resort.
William Cates and Evan Saunders sparred for sixty years. William battled zoning and expansion. He was comfortable with the short boardwalk and long fishing pier. He valued friendships and a sense of community, whereas Saunders was a developer. Evan built his own boardwalk and
yacht harbor and snubbed the barefoot mayor.
Hostility flared between the two men, and Barefoot William became a town divided. On an overcast day with thunderheads roiling, the conservative and the capitalist drew a line in the sand, which neither crossed during the remainder of their lifetimes. The line later became Center Street, the mid-point between Barefoot William and Saunders Shores.
The Cateses’ northern cement boardwalk linked to a wooden pier that catered to fishermen, sun worshippers, water sports enthusiasts, and tourists who didn’t wear a watch on vacation.
Amusement arcades and carnival rides drew large crowds to the Barefoot William Boardwalk. The specialty shops sold everything from Florida T-shirts, sun glasses, sharks’ teeth, shells, to hula hoops.
A century-old carousel whirled within a weatherproof enclosure. Its wall of windows overlooked the Gulf. The whirr of the Ferris wheel was soothing, while the swing ride that whipped out and over the Gulf sent pulses racing.
Barefoot William was as honky-tonk as Saunders
Shores was high-end. Couture, gourmet dining, and a five-star hotel claimed the southern boundaries. Waterfront mansions welcomed the rich and retired. Yachts the size of cruise ships lined the waterways. Private airstrips reduced
commercial travel. The wealthy were a community unto themselves.
In Shaye’s mind, Trace Saunders didn’t belong on the
Barefoot William Pier. Not tonight. Not ever. He was like gritty sand rubbing against her skin. She wanted to wash him off.
She leaned her elbows on the candy counter and gave him a hard stare to let him know where she stood. “You’re trespassing.”
Trace crossed the wide wooden planks of the candy shack and came to stand before her. Her breath caught. He was tall. “I’m slumming.” His boy’s voice was manly deep, a baritone that gave her goose bumps.
She looked him over with careful indifference. His hair was short, black, and spiky. His eyes were a blue-gray, and as pale as the crest of a wave. Movie night was casual - tank tops, T-shirts, shorts - yet Trace wore a white button down and dark slacks. She wanted to kick sand on his polished loafers. No doubt he’d kick it back.
She felt Kai tense as Crystal joined Trace. She wore a pink sundress with a narrow turquoise necklace strap. Shaye tried not to stare. Crystal was all girly and hot, and everything Shaye was not. From the corner of her eye, Crystal glanced at Kai for all of two seconds. Kai, on the other hand, glared a hole through her.
The two had a history. They’d grown up together. Crystal had claimed Kai as her boyfriend in the third grade. She’d pulled his hair on the playground until he agreed. They’d hung tight for seven years, up until her sixteenth birthday when Crystal decided she looked too much like a kid and wanted to appear more adult.
The Scissorhands Salon in Barefoot William no longer suited her. She’d called the stylists juvenile and silly. Crystal crossed to the dark side and booked an appointment at Zsuzsy, an exclusive day spa in Saunders Shores. The spa achieved the desired affect. The girl entered through the mint-green and gold double doors and emerged a young woman. Shaye and Kai hardly recognized her.
Crystal had cut her long brown hair, dyed her eyelashes, then gone on to purchase a wardrobe from Eclipz, a new teen designer.
Kai made the mistake of saying he missed Crystal’s ponytail. Crystal had yet to forgive him. Shaye kept silent when it came to Crystal’s lashes, which were so sooty and thick her brown eyes appeared black.
Trace Saunders was the only one to compliment Crystal’s haircut, a style as geometrically sharp as her tongue when she later dumped Kai.
Kai still suffered a broken heart. It was painful for him to see Trace and Crystal together now. Shaye needed to move them along.
She tapped the top of the candy counter. The colors on her mood ring shifted from calm blue to midnight dark. She loved retro jewelry and shopped the local flea market every Saturday.
“Buy something or say good-bye.” She was being rude, but didn’t care. He never gave her one good reason to be nice to him, so why start now?
Trace raised an eyebrow. Tonight he looked more amused than affronted. He was used to her behavior. She constantly blew him off and, on occasion, openly cheered when he struck out at baseball, missed a hoop in basketball, or came in second in a track meet.
He wasn’t crazy about her either. His girlfriends had boobs and hips. Shaye was an A-cup and all legs. Trace had called her Toothpick for as long as she could remember. She hated the nickname.
“I’d like cotton candy,” Crystal announced.
“We’re sold out and the machine’s being cleaned.” Shaye took pleasure in telling her.
“A bag of popcorn then,” was Crystal’s second request.
“All that’s left is unpopped kernels,” Shaye said. “You could chip a tooth.”
“Hot dog?” Crystal tried a third time.
“Steamer’s turned off.”
Crystal pouted until Trace suggested, “Candy bar?”
His date perked up. “We can play Sweet Treat,” she was quick to say. “Shaye created the game. She asks a question and, if you answer it correctly, the candy’s free.”
“Free sounds good,” Trace agreed.
Shaye preferred he pay. Her family owned Snack Shack, and any item given away free cut into their profits. Even something as small as a candy bar. She was annoyed that Crystal had shared a game played only by close friends. Trace was her enemy. She must never forget that.
“I’ll go first,” Crystal said.
Shaye had always liked Crystal, until the girl turned on Kai. Crystal was an average student, more into appearances than schoolwork. She often got confused by the wording of a question. “How is cotton candy made?” Shaye asked.
“In a cotton candy machine.”
Shaye shook her head. “Sorry, wrong answer. I was looking for either corn syrup or granulated sugar.”
Crystal’s shoulders slumped.
Trace frowned and took his date’s side. “Technically her response was correct.” He gave Shaye a disapproving look that made her uncomfortable. “If you’d wanted ingredients, you should have said so.”
“I was certain she’d say the candy was made from cotton,” Kai muttered from behind Shaye.
“She deserves another chance,” said Trace.
“I agree.” Mary was of the same mind.
Shaye didn’t like where this was going. Obviously Trace was seeing how far he could push her. She didn’t like being pushed.
“I want to go again,” Crystal pleaded.
Shaye debated. Second questions weren’t part of her game. Still, whatever she asked, chances were good Crystal would botch the answer. “Superman’s other identity. Name the candy bar,” she said.
“Jimmy Olson.”
Shaye didn’t look at Crystal; she met Trace’s gaze instead. She was surprised by the sympathy that darkened his eyes. He seemed embarrassed for his date. If it was anybody else, she would’ve admired that in him. Not Trace. His expression sought Shaye’s help to ease the situation. She scrunched her nose. This boy was a Saunders; she owned him nothing. But because of his genuine concern for Crystal, she gave him something. “Clark Bar. Clark Kent was Superman. Both Kent and Olsen were reporters at the Daily Planet. You were close, Crystal.”
Crystal sighed. “Close is good.”
“Correct would’ve been better,” said Kai.
Shaye removed a pack of gum from a shelf beneath the counter. “Bubble Yum Cotton Candy?” She offered the girl. It was her favorite flavor.
Crystal opened the pack and removed four pieces. She unwrapped each one and popped them in her mouth. Her cheeks bulged as she started to chew. “I can blow a bubble as big as my face,” she bragged.
Trace leaned left. “What if it pops?”
“Have fun getting the gum out of her hair.” Kai was aware of the consequences.
Crystal ignored her ex-boyfriend. She blew a small, practice bubble and sucked it back into her mouth. “It’s Trace’s turn to play Sweet Treat.”
Shaye shook her head. She was done for the night. She wanted Trace and his bubble-blowing date to move on. “We don’t have time.”
“Make time.” Trace reached into the back pocket of his slacks, removed his wallet, then a twenty dollar bill.
He set the money on the counter. “I’m buying five minutes.”
Shaye bristled. Did he think she was that hard up for a sale? Still she debated taking the bill.
Kai, on the other hand, had no such qualms. He snatched it up and put it in the cash box, a box with five singles and a handful of change.
Business was slow. Too slow to give Trace back his money. Kai had polished off six hot dogs, eating the profits as he shut down the steamer. Bored herself, she’d eaten a bucket of cheddar cheese popcorn.
Shaye had several tough questions she could ask Trace. She’d love to stump him. She went with the one that caused most people to draw a blank. “Name the colors of candy corn, base to tip.”
“Candy corn.” He rocked heel to toe, his stance tense and competitive. “Give me a minute, I’m thinking.”
Shaye rolled her eyes. Trace was a dork. He didn’t have an answer, yet he drew out the game. Was that a hint of a smile? No, she was imaging things.
The silence within the shack grew as hot and heavy as the humidity on the pier. A full minute passed. Sweat gathered on Kai’s forehead and at the crease of his neck. Moisture slickened Shaye’s palms. She rubbed the flat of her hands down her blue-jeaned thighs then curled her fingers into fists.
She soon nudged Trace. “Your answer?”
“Candy corn celebrates a lot of holidays,” he slowly said. “Which seasonal colors do you want? There’s gingerbread, candy cane peppermint, reindeer, Patriotic raspberry lemonade, Indian corn, and eggnog to name a few.”
Shaye’s jaw dropped. No player had ever named flavors. Put to the test, she couldn’t name the colored stripes on holiday corn. Trace Saunders was either a candy connoisseur or a bullshitter. She clamped her mouth closed, growing uneasy. “Your basic corn,” she said.
“Yellow, orange, white.”
Damn. Her stomach sank. She was dealing with a candy corn fanatic. What else would he try to put over on her?
Crystal giggled. “Isn’t he amazing?”
Amazing wasn’t the word Shaye would’ve chosen. Asshole fit him better. She eyed Trace with suspicion. “You know a lot about candy corn.”
He shrugged, then admitted, “Jelly beans and holiday corn are my two favorite candies.”
“Trace gave me a gourmet box of jelly beans last week for my birthday,” Crystal bragged. “You could eat the jelly beans individually or toss an assortment in your mouth and mix the flavors. Jelly beans are the new birthday cake.”
“I’d rather have cake and ice cream,” Kai said.
“And candles.” Shaye hadn’t meant to speak her thought aloud. Birthday candles sounded childish. Not that she cared what Trace thought of her.
Behind her, Kai yawned, scratched his stomach. His camouflage T-shirt was as wrinkled as his khaki shorts. It was getting late.
Shaye tapped a finger on the countertop, avoiding looking at Trace. “Pick your free treat,” she said.
“Select one for me.”
She went for Lemonheads, only to change her mind. She had no conscience where this boy was concerned, so she grabbed a box of Skittles from the lower shelf instead. She passed it to him.
He accepted the candy. “We’ll play again, Toothpick.”
She hated the humor in his eyes and the fact that he teased her. “Not on my pier, we won’t.”
“You don’t want to get even?” he called over his shoulder as Crystal took his hand and tugged him out the door. The girl was possessive.
Shaye grinned now. He’d soon realize she’d gotten him back already. He just didn’t know it yet. The Skittles were a year old, left over from the previous summer. They’d be stale, hard as rocks. She’d only kept the box around as a reminder to order a new case.
Taste the rainbow, Trace Saunders.